Review by Cassam Looch
WITH a cast list that screams awards recognition and from the man who directed Chicago, this is a musical with a difference.
The plot is genuinely interesting blurring the lines between fact and fantasy and creating a dreamlike environment that allows the stars some room to play… but the problem is the genre, which requires extravagant song and dance numbers to interrupt the flow.
Arrogant but talented filmmaker Guido Contini (Daniel Day-Lewis) is struggling to follow up the earlier successes in his career. With producers and journalists hounding him around Rome he decides to escape to a quiet little hideaway to find inspiration.
However, his chaotic private life soon follows him as his mistress arrives (Penelope Cruz) followed by his loving but weary wife Luisa (Marion Cotilliard).
Guido constantly seeks counsel from his mother (Sophia Loren) as well as another maternal figure in the form of Judi Dench’s costume designer but its international movie star Claudia (Nicole Kidman) whom he looks to for creativity.
Adding to the chaos is determined American journalist Stephanie (Kate Hudson) who is hunting down a story and the man himself. The cameras are set to roll in a week and with no script finalised the filmmaker even seeks divine intervention… but it could all be to no avail.
Based on a popular stage production, the inspiration being the semi-autobiographical Federico Fellini Oscar-winner 8 ½, Nine sticks to the period of 1960’s Italy with faithful authenticity.
You are immediately thrust into this world thanks in no small part to the excellent cinematography and the overpowering sense of being in the action of a film set.
The performances are all very good with Day-Lewis proving that he can carry a tune as well as a film. You get the sense of someone working and wrestling with inner-demons and although Guido shouldn’t garner any of our sympathy given his bed-hopping antics, you still feel for him as much as anyone else on screen.
Cotillard, as the devoted wife who gave up her own career, is also a stand-out giving you a very real and believable introduction to the lifestyle that the characters lead.
Unfortunately, the other female performances tend to get lost in the pack with varying degrees of success. The matriarchs, as portrayed by Dame Judi and Loren, could easily have been one character and although Cruz is fiery and passionate as the mistress, she burns out too quickly to make a lasting impact.
Kidman and Hudson look fantastic and their song and dance numbers are fun but amount to little more than extended cameos.
The direction is a touch pedestrian at times, too, failing to make full use of the locations and energetic performances.
For a film which should focus on the art of filmmaking it seems as if precious little innovation has gone into this aspect of the process. The conventions dictate that characters break out into random show tunes at the most dramatic moments, but it could have been handled better.
Running time: 2hrs
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: April 19, 2010